A Vet Inquiry

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Our Vet Inquiry reminded us that role-playing is a wonderful way for children to act out real life careers and to quite possibly give us a glimpse into each of our little ones’ futures.

A Democratic Classroom

One way that Madison and I like to promote and maintain student voice in the classroom, is through the use of voting. I think that voting is an important concept to grasp as it is a huge part of our society and something that the children will inevitably have to get used to in later grades and every day life situations. Our dramatic play centre had been an unused corner in our room since we took apart our rocket ship. We didn’t want to just slap something together, rather, we sought to thoughtfully plan our next idea with the children. This time, we gave the children total reign over what the dramatic play centre would be. Last time we changed things up in this centre, the children were still engaged in studying space and so it seemed to be a natural response for them to choose a rocket ship once it was suggested by a few of the children. This time, however, it was a fresh start and a bare canvas on which their imaginations could paint.

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We asked the children what their ideas were for the dramatic play centre and encouraged them to think for themselves and to not just go along with their friends’ ideas. This is another major area of learning we are focusing on lately as many of the children are in a very conformist stage of their development, often wanting to do only what their peers approve of and like. We recorded all of the ideas on a piece of chart paper, guiding them in considering ideas that would be plausible and fun for most of the children in the classroom. We then narrowed down these ideas to the four that seemed to be the most popular and/or the most ‘do-able’: Igloo, Vet, Castle, and Hospital. We took a blind vote (once again, to promote individual thinking) using tally marks to reinforce our newly learned math skill. Lo and behold, both Class A and Class B voted for a Vet Office! We weren’t all that surprised as we know how much children typically love animals and pets and recall the few times the children had expressed their desire to have a Vet Office in the classroom. And so it began… A Vet Inquiry! 

Creating Our Vet Office

Madison and I made a list with the children based on what we would need to buy and/or collect to create the Vet Office. I am lucky to have a friend who works at a local Animal Hospital and she supplied me with some medical models (dog jaw, pound of fat), tools (syringes, pill bottles, gauze and wraps, etc.) and some technician nursing gowns, masks and caps. We also purchased some of the things from second hand stores (pet books, stuffed animals, scale, baskets) and the drug store (ear/nose bulb syringe, pill cases, etc.). Madison made adorable felt bandages and I managed to find some real (and working) stethoscopes on Kijiji for a reasonable price. My main objective in collecting these items was not to default to using all plastic, juvenile-looking doctor kits. While those toys certainly have a place in play (I had one as a kid!), I had hoped to create a space that was as authentic as possible. I also wanted our students to feel like their teachers saw them as worthy and capable of using the ‘real things’.

It should be noted that before allowing the children to play with the pill bottles and syringes, they were instructed to never play with these items outside of our classroom Vet Office. We were very clear that these things could be dangerous if played with at home, at a family member’s or a friend’s house or if found outside. Authenticity of learning materials is important to me but so is the safety of my students.

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The children also voted on a name for our Vet. After many great ideas, we settled on “Junior Vets“, which is not only appropriate but catchy too!

Also, I’d like to give credit to the creator of some of my Vet Office resources, Jamie Aguilar. You can visit her on TeachersPayTeachers and see the Dramatic Play – Pet Vet Clinic package that I purchased by clicking on the link. We used many of the beautifully designed pieces in this package including: some of the signs, vet office forms (printed and then laminated to become dry-erase friendly), vet vocabulary word cards and the pet measurement cards you will see later, which we used as a math activity.

Thinking About Veterinarians and Vet Offices

In that last photo, you will notice two pre-inquiry thinking routines on chart paper (bottom right) hung directly inside of Junior Vets to make our thinking visible. We used the routine of Think/Puzzle/Explore (Click here to learn more about Harvard’s Visible Thinking project that I base many of my lessons off of). This exercise set the stage for our inquiry and gave us a chance to consider vet offices deeply before jumping straight into play. The Think/Puzzle/Explore thinking routine also resulted in giving us a direction for our inquiry. We hung the charts by Class A and Class B in the Vet Office to remind the children and ourselves about our inquiry goals and the children’s questions that will be answered through investigations, experiences, literature and video clips.

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As always, books have been an extremely important part to our learning about vet offices. We stocked the shelves with both fiction and non-fiction books about pets in general, specific domestic animals, the veterinary profession and vet offices. Here are some of our favourites (click on the book images for links to Amazon!)…

adayinthelife ervets iwanttobe mog petvet












We also watched a few video clips to help our understandings develop further. Below are a few of them! The first two give us an idea of what happens in the life of a vet and the third video shows highlights from a kids camp aimed at giving children a hands-on experience and glimpse into the veterinary profession.

Playing in the Vet Office

Many of the children have absolutely loved Junior Vets and have spent many hours learning and playing in it. In the photos below, you will witness some of the amazing exploring and role-playing that has occurred here.

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Signing in, showing the receptionist the problem with the pet and then conferring with the veterinarian about the pet.

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Children love dressing up in vet clothes and using the various medical tools – like this homemade yellow, felt bandage!

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Testing out various medical tools on the kitten. These boys have been regular ‘workers’ at Junior Vets!

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Practicing wrapping the pet’s injury using bandages.

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Children loved using the dry-erase forms on clipboards. They felt like real veterinarians!

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Top Right: She got the leash on; the puppy is ready to go! Bottom Right: This vet listens to the heart beat of these sleeping “animals”.

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Bottom Left: This little one loves pretending to be a sick pet! She is always well taken care of by her veterinarian friends.

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All dressed and ready to do some doctorin’!

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Top: This vet and vet tech are taking some important phone calls. Bottom: These two sick puppies are being cared for by some compassionate veterinarians.

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Proud vets showing off their pet patients who are on their way to recovery!

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Sometimes the children pretended that the book nook was their home and would make phone calls to Junior Vets to request house calls.

Vet Inquiry Learning Extensions

Sometimes when a new dramatic play area leads to an inquiry, the children make it known in various ways (through conversations, questioning or their actions) that they would like to expand their thinking through alternative experiences. This mainly just happens organically – for example, the children begin drawing something related to the inquiry or the new dramatic play centre or they ask questions about something they see in a book. Other times, we, as the educators, set up invitations for the children to explore and to interact with in hopes of giving them new possibilities or concepts to consider. The next few sections will showcase some of the other learning experiences the children engaged in to expand or enhance their understanding of vet offices, veterinarians and pets/house animals.

Math Explorations

Measuring Pets
Children measured the length, height and weight of various stuffed pets using Unifix cubes and a balancing scale.

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L loved this activity and mastered it by visiting this center often.

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C challenged himself by measuring all of the pets at the table. He could count all of the cubes with no assistance and loved figuring out how many would balance the scale.

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D also loved the challenge at this centre. He persevered and learned how to do all of the measurements.

Dog Jaw Math Game

Two students could play at one game board (a dog’s jaw with empty spaces for the teeth). They took turns, rolling the dice and putting down the corresponding number of cubes in their chosen colour. When the board game was full, they counted to see who got the most teeth on. They loved it!

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Lots of smiles with this game!

Expressing our Thinking Through Drawings

“Can You Draw a Vet Office?”

Children were invited to draw what they imagine goes on inside of a vet office by getting ideas from the books at the tables. Although these photos only capture one afternoon of vet drawing, this was an activity chosen by the children on many days and at different points over the course of our inquiry.

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Bottom: Check out those cages!

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Many children were fascinated with the long cameras that went inside of animals during operations (see bottom left picture). We had many drawings of these. X-rays were another popular area of wonder.

Literacy Extensions

Word Vet was a game we created aimed at improving the children’s word building and word recognition skills. Bone halves had to be matched together to create simple words (pink letters with green letters) and then recorded on a chart. There were various word blends and digraphs as well as common word endings. We added the doctor gloves and tongs for those who wanted the extra “vet” experience!

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Small World Play & Sensory Experiences

Pet World was a sensory bin filled with hamster shavings and small domestic animal figurines. We also added other materials that the children could use to create homes and scenes for their pets. The children were able to experience a new material (the hamster shavings) while participating in imaginative small world play to enhance their new understandings about pets. Children often played here for long periods of time. Sometimes, after observing, we would step in and ask them questions about the pets they were playing with (e.g., “Why do you have the fish in the hamster shavings? Would a real fish survive out of it’s fish bowl or water?”) to reinforce key concepts related to pet care and pet behaviour.

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Spring Pond Pets & Water Play

Spring Pond Pets was a water table activity consisting of water beads, fake  water lillies and flowers, buckets, watering cans and figurines of animals that are sometimes found in ponds but also often kept as pets. As with many water play experiences, this offered children an array of possible learning opportunities, including those pertaining to: problem-solving, math concepts (same/different, full/empty, counting bucket fulls, etc.), physics principles (effects of force – e.g., increasing water flow using increased force), physical development and hand-eye coordination (through pouring, stirring, etc.), and language development using water-related vocabulary.

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Fine Motor Strengthening: Play Dough Pets

Children were presented with the question: “Can You Make Homes for the Pets?”. We had green play dough (grass perhaps?), cookie cutters and flower and pet figurines. The little designs they came up with were adorable and the process was excellent for their imaginations and fine motor strengthening.

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Creative Sculptures: Pet Rocks

Madison and I had a large collection of stones and we had been pondering what to do with them. We thought it might be fun to ask the children if they wanted to make pet rocks as more of a fun ‘extra’ to our pet discussions.They were presented with a variety of rocks of different shapes, sizes and colours as well as paint. After the paint dried, Madison coated them in Mod Podge and the children stuck on different accessories while the gloss was still sticky. The creation of these pet rocks might not have added much to our inquiry but it was a fun, creative experience for the children to participate in while keeping our inquiry in mind. To bring in more ‘thinking’, we later had the children imagine what their pet rocks would be like if they were alive. In the next section, you will see the children writing about their pet rocks as if they were living, breathing pets that they had to take care of!

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Writing Practice: Thinking About Pets

As mentioned earlier, we used our pet rocks as the subjects for various writing/drawing prompts. To help the children visualize the concept of having their own “pet”, we asked them to keep their pet rocks in mind when considering the questions posted at various writing stations. Take a look!

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Check out those pet homes!

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After some wonderful discussions, all of the children were able to point out that all pets need food, water, shelter (or a place to sleep), and love!

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Some children drew their actual pet rock as the subject in their vet office pictures, while others (e.g., middle photos) chose to show their thinking using real pets as subjects.

Saying Goodbye to our Vet Office

Although the children have maintained an interest in playing in the Vet Office for weeks now, we are about to say goodbye. We have already begun brainstorming new ideas for our dramatic play space. What I wanted the children to get from our Vet Inquiry was less about facts and more about learning how to think deeply and to continue to ask questions and look for answers. The children peppered us with questions daily while they looked through the vet and pet books. They were intrigued by the medical tools put out in Junior Vets and learned how they worked by putting them into action and using them. Through role-playing, watching the video-clips and participating in other learning experiences, the children learned that there is much more to vet offices than they may have originally thought. Many even expressed – after acting out roles during imaginative play and by learning more about the veterinary profession – how they would love to one day be an animal doctor or at least work with animals. And you know what? I wouldn’t put it past any of them. What I hope is that this glimpse into the veterinary world has expanded their minds, their hearts and their possibilities.

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